For Reel

Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (2007)
November 1, 2015, 11:02 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Kent Jones
3.5 Stars
Val Lewton The Man in the ShadowsThis Turner Classic Movies production is the better of the two documentaries included in the Val Lewton DVD box set, with director/writer Kent Jones accomplishing a more poetic, mysterious approach to the life of the famed horror producer. As the title suggests, Lewton was not one who thrived in the spotlight–he was an intensely private man whose second home was the ocean, the vast emptiness where he would spend his weekends on a yacht with family or close friends. In reflecting on the inherent unknowability of a long-dead man of whom there is little personal record, Jones wisely cuts to a haunting clip of the mute sailor from The Ghost Ship. Much of the documentary has similarly psychoanalytical interests. Lewton’s relationship with women in his early childhood (he was raised by his mother and sister) is discussed as informing his female characters, as well as his own depression and lack of self esteem contributing to his journeys into the dark, where death remains a simultaneously horrifying and somehow intoxicating unknown. These tangential observations are interesting, but the film’s real value is the historical contextualization–there is a remark early on, for example, that Lewton could make B-movies look so professional because he had the benefit of having access to sets like those of The Magnificent Ambersons (as used in Cat People).

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